10 Dietitian-Approved, Gluten-Free Snacks for Back to School
Experts explain the main reasons for removing gluten from the diet. Then, they weigh in on which gluten-free treats are suitable for school-day snacks.
From yoghurt parfaits to fruit dipped in homemade caramel, there is an assortment of ways to jazz up a nutritious snack for children—though they may not always be obvious. This may especially be the case if the child cannot eat gluten.
As a refresher, gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in the wheat plant and other grains. It can be extracted, concentrated and added to food products to up the protein count or enhance texture and flavour, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.
(Related: What Is Protein Powder? And Should I Try It?)
What's the difference between gluten intolerance (or sensitivity) and coeliac disease?
It's no secret that the number of children (and adults) living with either a gluten sensitivity, intolerance or coeliac disease is on the rise.
According to a 2021 review, found in the World Journal of Clinical Pediatrics, over the last 30 years, the prevalence of coeliac disease has increased significantly due to a rise in awareness and advanced diagnostic testing. The study authors estimated that one percent of the global population has coeliac disease, yet up to 95 percent of patients remain undiagnosed.
While the terms "gluten intolerance", "gluten sensitivity" and "coeliac disease" seem to be used interchangeably, only two of these terms have the same meaning.
"Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the upper portion of the small intestine (the duodenum) and requires a lifelong avoidance of gluten", said Lara Field, MS, RDN and owner and founder of FEED Nutrition Consulting. "There is no other treatment other than removing gluten from the diet".
She adds that this chronic digestive and immune disorder is not an allergy and the possible long-term effects of untreated coeliac disease include osteoporosis, anaemia and infertility, as well as vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Gluten intolerance and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity are terms typically used to describe digestive or extraintestinal symptoms—headache, fatigue, muscle ache, brain fog—that occur when eating foods with gluten, said E.A. Stewart, MBA, RDN, who specialises in eating plans for those with digestive disorders.
"Unlike coeliac disease, there is no approved test for gluten intolerance other than temporarily removing gluten-containing foods from the diet, then reintroducing them to see if symptoms return".
What To Know About Pivoting To a Gluten-Free Lifestyle
Whether your child has a non-coeliac gluten sensitivity or has been diagnosed with coeliac disease, figuring out which foods they can eat may seem overwhelming. The Celiac Disease Organization offers a comprehensive list of gluten-containing grains to avoid, including:
- Wheat and wheat derivatives, such as durum, semolina, spelt, farro and wheat starch
- Malt in multiple forms, such as malted milkshakes, malt syrup and malt vinegar
The common foods that fall under the gluten category include items such as pastas, noodles, breads, cereals, crackers, flour tortillas and other carbohydrate-rich breakfast items (such as pancakes, waffles and French toast). Other possible items to add to this list may include granola bars, soups, salad dressings, candy and processed lunch meats.
However, Stewart encourages her gluten-free patients to focus on all of the "delicious, naturally gluten-free items, especially those that are high in fibre", she said. These complex carbohydrate-rich foods include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Beans and legumes
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole-grain, gluten-free grains, such as brown rice, buckwheat, fonio, quinoa, sorghum, teff, amaranth and millet
10 Gluten-free Snacks for Kids
Field and Stewart, who are registered dietitians, offer 10 easy-to-make, gluten-free snacks that can start off the school year on a positively tasty note below:
Stewart's gluten-free snack ideas:
- Rice or corn cakes topped with nut butter and berries
- Rice or corn cakes topped with sliced turkey, avocado and cheese
- Whole-grain, gluten-free crackers and vegetable sticks served with hummus
- Yoghurt parfait made with unsweetened yoghurt, fruit and gluten-free granola or nuts
- Bananas foster yoghurt parfait, which is made by sautéing banana slices in coconut oil and then sprinkling them with cinnamon and a little brown sugar—and serving them on top of Greek yoghurt with chopped walnuts and ground flaxseed
- Apple slices dipped in homemade chocolate almond butter, which includes almonds, cocoa, maple syrup, cinnamon and sea salt
Field's gluten-free snack ideas:
- Apple crisps, which are a three-ingredient (apples, cinnamon, sugar) recipe that yields sweet and crunchy crisps that can be enjoyed alone or as a yoghurt topping
- Super-simple spice nuts made with almonds, pecans, egg whites, maple syrup and multiple spices, including cinnamon and nutmeg
- Buffalo cauliflower bites, which are gluten-free, vegetarian bites coated in garbanzo bean flour
- Healthy caramel dip served with apples or other fruit for dipping and made with Medjool dates, almond milk, Greek yoghurt, salt, coconut oil and either vanilla bean or vanilla extract
Words by Amy Capetta